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NASCAR: It's a double feature this weekend at Michigan

Image via: Wiki Commons.

This week, the NASCAR Cup Series heads for the high banks of Michigan for the Firekeepers Casino 400. This will be NASCAR's second doubleheader of the season as they continue to draw closer and closer to the playoffs. Earlier in the summer, NASCAR announced the final races before the playoffs and in those number of races they announced that they will be running two doubleheaders. One this Saturday and Sunday at Michigan and another in a few weeks at Dover. We saw a double feature race earlier this year at Pocono, so it will be interesting to see here in a different set of circumstances at Michigan. This track is a two and half mile oval that races similarly to a track like Auto Club as they both have plenty of grooves and lanes to run on. With this aero package it should be interesting to see if the racing is similar to last year's.

It was announced this week that NASCAR would unveil their last batch of races for the remainder of 2020 and for the most part the season remains pretty much the same. Richmond will get back one of it's races that was cancelled and Phoenix Raceway will remain the season finale. NASCAR had made it clear that they were hoping to keep their playoff races intact and luckily they were able to. We will still get to see Martinsville decide who gets to race in the final four, and we will still see Bristol in the playoffs as well. The only question that remains now is will these races have fans? I have a feeling that at tracks like Las Vegas we will see no fans but on tracks like Texas and Bristol or Richmond, I have a feeling they will be much more lenient. Only time will tell as everything remains fluid.

It was announced on Thursday that Erik Jones will not return to the #20 car for Joe Gibbs in 2021. This clears a path for the next Gibbs driver in the pipeline, Christopher Bell. The writing had been on the wall for a while as Toyota and Joe Gibbs had too many drivers and not enough seats to fit all of them. The same thing happened back in 2017 when it was announced that Erik Jones would be replacing Matt Kenseth in the same car. While I hate to see Jones lose his ride, I think it will only be temporary as there are a bunch of good rides available. Besides, you have to feel as if he is now the favorite to replace Jimmie Johnson next season after Brad Keselowski announced he will be back at Penske next season.

Another headline that was announced this week was the changes that will be made to how the field will start at the Daytona Roval. NASCAR also announced Thursday that they would use weighted metrics to decide who starts on the front-row. The formula will consist of three criteria including, finishing position in the previous race, position in owner points, and fastest lap time in the race. None of this makes any sense to the average viewer. In fact, most of the drivers I would imagine don't understand it either. There were probably better ways of doing this including actual practice and qualifying. I can understand that NASCAR is trying to do everything in their power to make sure drivers are limited at the racetrack, but this is becoming more and more unnecessary by the week.

As I mentioned earlier, Erik Jones will be looking for a ride next season. What better way to prove you belong than by winning races and that's what I predict he will do this weekend at Michigan. This is a track that is special to him considering he is a native Michigander. While he hasn't had the best finishes here over the past few years, I will say he has been running well. Despite a lackluster 24th place finish at New Hampshire, before that he had rattled off back-to-back top tens with a fifth at Texas and a sixth at Kansas. I look for him to get back in the grove and get his third career win and leave a big impression on all the teams looking for a driver next season. Look for Erik Jones to win one of the races this weekend.

The other driver I have winning this weekend is Joey Logano. On Saturday, Logano will roll off first to begin the weekend. This is a track where Joey has been stellar at as well. He has won here four times including back in 2013 in a race that put Logano back on the map and began his reign at Penske. I look for him to get win #4 this weekend at Michigan.

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Urquidy should get the nod over McCullers. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

After being basically overmatched in their season opening loss at Kansas City, the Texans try it this week against the other team vastly superior to them in the AFC last season with the Baltimore Ravens at fan-less NRG Stadium Sunday. They met last year with the Ravens humiliating the Texans 41-7 in Baltimore.

The Chiefs are a tough measuring stick, but the Texans didn't measure up in any area. Meanwhile, in their opener last Sunday the Ravens bashed the Browns 38-6 with reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson completing 20 of 25 passes with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Jackson ran only seven times, last time he had fewer carries was the season opener last season. On paper there is little reason to think the Texans win. They have no position unit advantage with the possible exception of wide receiver, but given the puny outputs of Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, and Kenny Stills in Kansas City let's see them have a good game before giving them any checkmarks over opponents. The Ravens are seven point favorites.

The playoffs are in sight for the Astros

The Astros continue to slog (slog, not slug) their way to the postseason. Entering the weekend with just 10 games left in this truncated regular season they sit as a paragon of mediocrity: 25 wins and 25 losses. That has about clinched a playoff spot though since in the gimmicky short season postseason format the Astros are a virtual lock to qualify by finishing second in the American League West. They are three games ahead of Seattle. If somehow they wind up tied there is no one game playoff, and the Astros have already clinched the tiebreaker over the Mariners. The Astros play only lousy teams to close. Three this weekend vs. the Diamondbacks, then three to try to polish off the Mariners in Seattle, then four in Arlington at the Rangers.

The Astros' bullpen will be stronger in the playoffs

The Astros' lousy bullpen has been a big weakness in the 60 game schedule and would have been a bigger problem over a 162 game schedule. In the playoffs, that weakness could be greatly diminished. In the opening round best of three Zack Greinke is sure to start one of the first two games. If Justin Verlander makes it back to start the other, that leaves just one starting spot left for Dusty Baker to decide likely between Jose Urquidy and Lance McCullers. That would add Framber Valdez and Christian Javier to the Astros' pen.

Since the Astros will have no playoff games at Minute Maid Park, Urquidy (with two more decent starts) should get the nod over McCullers. It is bizarre that McCullers has been so regularly outstanding at MMP while so often inept elsewhere. In five home starts this season McCullers has a 1.42 earned run average. In four road starts his ERA is 13.50. It's not just a short season small sample size thing. For his career McCullers has 44 home starts, ERA 2.51. 45 road starts (plus three relief appearances), ERA 5.22. It's not as if MMP is a great pitchers' park.

Timing is running out for the Rockets

The Rockets turned out to be irrelevant as real NBA championship contenders go. The Lakers are excellent so there is no shame in losing to them, but the Rockets getting destroyed in the fourth quarter of two games and then not even being competitive in the closeout game made a complete mockery of General Manager Daryl Morey's "we should win this thing" claim. With one of the oldest starting lineups in the NBA the Rockets' future is perilous. Head Coach Mike D'Antoni opting to not be part of it in telling the organization goodbye without even waiting on a new contract offer. If for the third consecutive offseason the Rockets make personnel moves on the cheap, they are not to be taken seriously as a title threat in 2020-21.

The Denver Nuggets should give the Lakers a better series than did the Rockets. That in and of itself isn't saying much, but the Nuggets are younger, deeper, and more versatile than the Rockets.

Last season Kyle Lowry played stellar point guard in helping the Toronto Raptors win the NBA championship. This season Goran Dragic is playing stellar point guard in helping the Miami Heat to within two wins of playing for the NBA championship. Once upon a time the Rockets had Lowry and Dragic on their roster at the same time. The Rockets are at 25 seasons and counting since last playing in the NBA Finals.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Maybe a postseason revival is to come, but Jose Altuve has never so regularly looked so messed up at the plate. His batting average down to .216, Altuve has been by far the worst Astro regular in 2020.

2. Other than at the Masters it looks like it will be a major surprise (and event) if Tiger Woods seriously contends to win another major.

3. Best doodles: Bronze-Yankee Silver-Snicker Gold-Golden

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